Today I testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights pursuant to a subpoena investigating the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation dismissal. I would rather no such obligation had arisen.
My previous Pajamas Media article comprised much of what I was willing to testify about. In that article, I detailed specific instances of hostility being expressed towards a race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws, and in particular laws regarding voting and elections.
To the many that have experienced the hostility firsthand, denials of its existence seem preposterous.
To the many who expressed such hostility, often thoughtful but wrong, it would be a help to all of us if they might engage the debate with the respectable tenor which they sometimes did when I was in the Department of Justice. After all, such opponents of race-neutral law enforcement surely weren’t “cowards” about discussing race in those instances, and we might all benefit from a full understanding of their views. So let’s have the opponents of race-neutral enforcement of voting cases come out in the open and tell the American public why they oppose it.
But I’ll start the discussion for now.
I am reminded of a visit to the Voting Section by newly confirmed Attorney General Eric Holder in March of 2009. Attorney General Holder came to the conference room to meet the assembled Voting Section. He was introduced by a political appointee, then-acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King. It was quite exciting. In every federal building, a photograph of the president is displayed with the agency head. So in the Justice Department, President Obama is displayed with General Holder at the entrances.
Loretta King had the honor of introducing Attorney General Holder. She would subsequently participate in the dismissal of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. And she said something astonishing in her introduction of the attorney general.
She exclaimed to the crowd:
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to go to work every day, and look up at the photos, and see that we now have two black men running the country.
Cheers followed, but not from everyone.
Obviously, I recognize the joy that naturally surrounds the election of the first black president. In 1860, a system of bondage debased the humanity of nearly four million souls in America. Even after hundreds of thousands gave their lives in places like Gettysburg, Stones River, and Battery Wagner, new but still evil ways were devised to oppress a race.
I’ve stood alone in the driveway where Medgar Evers fell in Jackson, Mississippi, and considered the sad heroism that characterizes some of the last martyrs to a cause. How close he came to seeing a sort of Promised Land on Earth, where Mississippi now boasts more minority elected officials per capita than any other state.
I’ve scoured the back streets of Philadelphia, Mississippi, hunting down the half-hidden memorial to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three champions of the right to vote. They were slaughtered after being pulled over by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. I wondered why the memorial was not at the jail where they were detained with sinister intent. It would make a more noble witness to what an unrestrained government is capable of doing to humans.
These places moved me to my core. I cannot even imagine how profound the election of Barack Obama would be to me if I experienced the evil injustice of segregation as a target. I deeply respect the overwhelming joy following the election, even if I cannot understand it in the same way.
But foul history does not excuse foul impropriety.
Electoral euphoria does not justify a racially tinged announcement by a superior, in the presence of the United States attorney general, to her subordinates.
Imagine if in March 2013, the new political leadership of the Civil Rights Division were to introduce Attorney General Jeff Sessions, refer to the portrait of President Mitch Daniels, and say: “What a relief it is to come to work every day and see we once again have two white men running the country.” Not only would the story be blasted on the front pages of the Washington Post, and rightfully so, but the person who made the statement would probably lose their job. At the very least, the attorney general would be sure to take the underling aside afterwards and make it unequivocally clear that such racially tinged comments are completely unacceptable.
Had this occurred at private business, the same Civil Rights Division would probably open an employment discrimination investigation into the conduct.
What are the chances that Attorney General Holder had that discussion with Loretta King?
I’ll bet next to none. But it is certainly something that now-Senator Sessions might ask Attorney General Holder next time an oversight hearing occurs. One thing is for sure — King’s power in the Civil Rights Division did not diminish after her comment. She was held out as the fair, unbiased, and competent civil servant who gave careful consideration to the New Black Panther case.
Despite the defendants waving a baton and yelling “you are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker,” Loretta King decided that a dismissal of nearly all of the case was the only available course of action. Alas, the worm has turned.
I stated on Fox News that it was clear to me that no cases against national racial minorities would issue from the Voting Section during this administration. Let’s hope they change their mind. I testified under oath today, because I had no choice, that those instructions were given by Deputy Assistant Attorney General (DAAG) Julie Fernandes.
My understanding of her instructions were that no cases would be brought against national racial minorities by the Voting Section, and if a U.S. Attorney wanted to bring one, it was up to them to do so. Of course, no U.S. attorney will wade into that sort of mess without the help of the experts in the Voting Section, and DAAG Fernandes would know that.
If the Department denies this occurred, then the public and the now-very-interested media should demand that the senior management of the Voting Section in 2009 be made to testify under oath to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Of course this will never happen, because they know by now what the testimony would be.
This was not the first reckless and lawless instruction Julie Fernandes had given to the Voting Section. I will be writing in the future here at Pajamas Media about other ones that could directly affect the outcome of elections.
The Department has come under widespread criticism for the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, and for the fact that many within the Civil Rights Division are openly hostile to a race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws. Notice that the Department has never once denied that widespread hostility exists throughout its ranks to bringing cases against national racial minorities. To do so would be futile, because so many people know it is true.
That doesn’t mean the Department of Justice can’t redeem itself.
The best thing that could happen from the ugly New Black Panthers dismissal and public revelation of the truth is for the Department to change course. The outrage I have heard in hundreds of emails and in calls from around the nation tell me Americans value equal enforcement of the law as much as they cherish the right to vote without men with weapons shouting racial slurs at them. Equality and the right to vote are sacred partners.
If these hearings prompt the Department to reconsider the institutional hostility to equal enforcement of voting laws, then it will be a great day for America. We will all be able to exhale and declare: “Thank goodness they finally followed the law.” If it took attention for them to change course, we can all agree the attention was good.
I actually believe Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez is the right man to do it. He inherited the mess of the New Black Panthers case from Steve Rosenbaum and Loretta King, two lifelong civil servants who should be forced by the attorney general to learn what it is like to find paying clients. Similarly, reckless instructions to the voting section by DAAG Julie Fernandes can still be reversed by Perez. Tom Perez, I believe, is a man who wants to do the right thing, even if we might disagree about particulars. And nothing could be more right and just than making it perfectly clear to everyone — through action, not a press release — that the Department is willing to enforce all the voting laws and protect all victims of racial discrimination.
I’ll be watching and reporting at Pajamas Media on a number of matters where perfect opportunities for redemption are within reach for Perez to undo the damage that Rosenbaum, King, and Fernandes have done to Obama’s vision of a Civil Rights Division committed to enforcing all of the laws with integrity.
So I started the conversation. It would be good if the Department of Justice did more than talk about a commitment to enforcing the Voting Rights Act in a race-neutral fashion. America would prefer some action.
Your turn, General Holder.